Thursday, November 19, 2015


Grandma has an exciting story to tell about her life. Grandpa has told us how he walked three miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways. Your Great-great aunt has passed on exciting stories about her grandparents, who were born just before the Civil War started. These stories have taken up a special place in your heart, and you want them to survive. Keeping stories alive about someone in your family that was a witness to the Civil War is so important to you, but the genealogy bug hasn't gotten to your kids yet, and in order for family history to survive, we need to pass it on to the younger generations.

If you like classic television, you’ve surely seen The Andy Griffith Show. In one of my favorite episodes, Andy gets stuck in a bind with his son’s teacher over History homework. The teacher gets so frustrated with her students’ apparent lack of interest in their History studies that she is on the verge of quitting when Andy steps in and tells the boys that they don’t want to learn about all that “dull stuff” anyway –about “Indians, and Redcoats, and cannons, and guns and muskets and stuff.” The boys get all excited that Andy seems to be in agreement with them, and then they pause, turn, and look at him quizzically. Then one pipes up: “What about Indians and Redcoats and cannons and muskets and guns and stuff?” Andy brushes it off, saying, “Oh, you know. Indians and Redcoats, and you know…history.” And with that, the boys are hooked.

Andy then engages the boys (and his deputy, Barney Fife) in a heart-pounding rendition of the tale of Paul Revere, and with every word, the boys’ eyes grow wider, their jaws drop further, and they are drawn more and more into the story. “He says the British is comin’, the British is comin’, get your guns, we’re gonna have us a revolution!” When Andy is finished, they demand to know just where he got that story! Andy just replies, “Oh, your history book.” But the bait is already sunk. The boys have been won over. History has come alive for them through the power of storytelling, and they wanted to know more.

Barney and the boys listening to Andy's story

(If you want to see the entire episode, it’s called Andy Discovers America, and it’s on YouTube here: The excerpt I discussed starts at the 10:15 mark.)

Children need to know that their ancestors’ lives were a series of stories. There were times your ancestors probably picked up their son or daughter on their knee and told them the story of the time they did this or that. Pa Ingalls in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series was an expert storyteller. Laura preserved those stories in her books, always just as exciting as when Pa told it to her.

And that is what I want to challenge you to do with your children. Capture your family stories in a homemade storybook. Write out their stories in narrative form, with dialogue and action verbs and illustrations by your child. Turn that story your grandpa told you into a storybook. Turn the family legend of your ancestor’s crossing of the Atlantic into a storybook. Was your 7th great-grandfather a teacher in a small town in Germany? His story can be in a storybook. Was your 3rd great-grandfather a Union soldier? That can be a storybook, too.
An illustration by my daughter, Ellie, about our ancestor Jesse Vawter

Will you and your children join me? I’d love to create a community of people turning their family history into storybooks with the help of your children. Or you can do it on your own, and present the book to your children or grandchildren as a gift. It’s up to you! Whatever you do, share it with the rest of us! Use the hashtag #StorybookAncestor or simply comment on this blog with your link. I’ll be sharing the storybooks I create with my 7 year old daughter and I'll check in every week to share everyone else's. I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with. Best wishes!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday's Faces from the Past: The Mystery of Salome Clouse Hitchcock

I have one particular ancestor whose story has really thrown me for a loop.

Salome Clouse Hitchcock 1815-1893

Her maiden name was Salome Clouse, and she was born in 1815 in North Carolina. She married her sister's widower, Isaac Hitchcock, and they moved to Hope, Indiana. Her granddaughter is my great-great grandmother, Nellie Hitchcock Mulry. Now, the story goes in the Mulry family history that we have "deep roots in the South, as your great, great, great grandmother was a Cherokee Indian." Later, it mentions that Salome was "half Cherokee Indian." The man who wrote about Salome in the Mulry history was born only 11 years after she died, so I would assume the story may have come directly from Salome. But it remains a mystery, because...

...when I did some research on Salome, I found that her parents were John Clouse and Catherine Lachenauer, who has deep French roots. I wondered if maybe Catherine was John's second wife, and if she was recorded as Salome's mother because she raised her--perhaps Salome's mother died when she was young. But where would this story have come from that Salome was half Cherokee? Did she find out as a questioning young teenager, or was it something that she had known all along? Or was Catherine Lachenauer really her mother? Or maybe she was descended from Cherokee much further back, and the story somehow morphed into her being "half." She did come from North Carolina, where the Cherokee made their home.

I have Mulry relatives that have said their grandmother, Nellie Hitchcock Mulry, told of Indian roots, and one person mentions a photo of Nellie all dressed up in "full Indian garb", but that photo has been lost. This is just something I may have to continue to speculate about, as there may never be any real proof to substantiate the family story. I would be proud to have Cherokee blood flowing through my veins, but I may never know for sure if I do or not.

What about you? There are so many stories about Native American roots floating about nowadays, but often little evidence. I'm excited to read more by my co-writer at The In-Depth Genealogist, who writes about Native American genealogy. I have a lot to learn, and a lot of curiosity to lead me there!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Indiana History Unit Studies

Now that I've completed my first course of graduate school studying History, I'm ready to dive in and finally start creating those Indiana history unit studies I've been talking about for so long. My first course taught me how to do historical research, and my next class will teach me how to write history. My tentative plan will be to release my first unit study near the time I will be completing my second course next summer. 

What will it be about? The first unit study on Indiana history will be all about the Prehistoric Peoples of Indiana, beginning with the arrival of the Paleo-Indians thousands of years ago, and on up through the Mississippian peoples who made this area their home. As part of my research for the study, I have visited sites such as Mounds State Park in Anderson, Koteewi Park in Strawtown, and I have future plans to visit such places as Angel Mounds in Evansville, and a big trip to Cahokia Mounds in Illinois. The unit study will include vivid photographs from my trips, accompanying field trip tips to those sites, and of course, exciting history all about the peoples who called the Midwest and specifically present-day Indiana home, tailored for a 4th grade student beginning their study of Indiana history.

The Great Mound at Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana

I have a Bachelor's in Elementary Education and have taught in schools, but am relatively new to homeschooling. My daughter went to a charter school for Kindergarten, but we decided to transfer her to home school for 1st grade on. My son is two, and loves having his big sister home to learn alongside her. I develop unit studies especially for my daughter, mostly focusing on Language Arts. She is a very inquisitive little girl and I often let her decide what she wants to study. We just finished a three-week study on Space, and this week we switched gears and are doing a little study on Native Americans. For this, we went to Koteewi Park in Strawtown and went on a little walk (their Taylor Center for Natural History was unfortunately closed). But as we were walking the grounds and talking about the people who lived there, I realized something. I have the perfect co-writer. My daughter! I realized again just how creative and inquisitive she is, and concluded she just must do my research with me, and write my Indiana history unit studies along with me. It needs a child's touch, after all.

I'll be launching an author website in the near future, and keep in touch - I'll also be posting free lesson and activity ideas on this blog and that website, designed by my daughter and I. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me!

White River, or Wapahani, at Mounds State Park

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Society Saturday: Indiana Genealogy & Local History Fair

The view from my booth at the Indiana State Library

I participated in the Indiana State Library's Genealogy & Local History Fair today, and it was a wonderful experience. Genealogists are some of the nicest bunch of people, I'll tell ya. We may like hanging around dead people, but we're still friendly with the living.

Well, I was there to promote my books, and I did sell a few, glad to say, but I also spread the word about The In-Depth Genealogist, which I now proudly write for. But the best part was the connections that I made! I sat across from the ladies at the Clinton County Genealogical Society, and we discussed my husband's Ploughe ancestors who lived in Clinton County. I also met Naomi from Scott County, and she purchased my books. (I hope you like them, Naomi.) I don't have any Scott County ancestors, it's one of the few counties in Indiana I'm not connected with, but I hope to maybe see them again next year.

But I was very excited to make a connection with the Society of Indiana Pioneers. I have been toying with the idea of joining their society for years now, and today after meeting their genealogist, Michele, I think I'm finally going to do it. I know I qualify- I am a 9th generation Hoosier on both sides, after all, and I've already found my ancestor Jesse Vawter on their list of approved ancestors, I just have to track down all the documentation to prove I'm his descendant. But for me, the big Indiana history guru to not be a part of their society by now, is a little silly, dontcha think? I know, about time.

Side note, I'm also joining the Indiana Genealogical Society. If you join now, you get an extended membership to the end of 2016. That's worth it, I'll say.

I'm excited to make more connections and maybe travel a little, if not in person, then at least on the page. I just finished my first research proposal before writing this blog post, which completes my first course of graduate school towards my Master's in American History. And after today, I'm more inspired than ever to keep writing, and keep researching. Will you join me?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Indiana Tradition

There are certain times when I feel like a super-Hoosier, and I love it. I love my Indiana heritage, and all the traditions that go along with it. We had a chance to go to Myrtle Beach this week, but decided not to, and although it would have been a lot of fun, I'm kind of glad to stay here right now. Indiana in autumn is simply beautiful, and my favorite time of year.

There's one tradition that I haven't missed once in my lifetime, and that's what's known as the "Stewfest". When I was younger we just called it "Joe & Darlene's".

Every October, my Great-Uncle Joe and Aunt Darlene host a get-together in their big red barn, and my maternal grandpa's side of the family gathers, Uncle Joe cooks stew over the fire, we roast marshmallows, we catch up, and, if the weather cooperates, we go on a hayride. Uncle Joe and Aunt Darlene live out in the country in Morgan County, Indiana, down a windy road, their big house with the wrap-around porch set up on a hill in the trees overlooking the wide open fields. My immediate family has even had a tradition of listening to a particular album on the way down to their house since I was probably in elementary school - the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack - but we can't turn it on until we get to SR-67, and the brightly colored hills are all around us. This tradition took on almost mythic proportions for me as a child, and to this day, even now in my 30s, it seems almost magical.

Uncle Joe & Aunt Darlene with the famous stew

The hayride is my favorite part of the whole thing. This year was the first in three years that we got our hayride. Two years ago the fields were too wet, and last year it was pouring down rain, so heavy we could hardly hear each other over the pounding on the barn roof, and my brother Nicholas and cousin Allie and I agreed it didn't really feel like the Stewfest and went home rather bummed. But this year, as the Stewfest has entered a new age with its own hashtag on Facebook among family members, this year was perfect.

My mom with her 3 grandchildren - Micah, Kira, & Ellie - the 5th generation of the Lutz family to attend the Stewfest

We huddle up next to each other in the hay in our sweatshirts and hoodies as Uncle Joe pulls us on his tractor. The Milky Way is clearly visible above us, and we point out all the constellations we know. Aunt Robin starts singing the Brady Bunch song. My son Micah is snuggled in my lap, one of the 5th generation of Lutz family members to attend the Stewfest. My sister Kristin has her little daughter, Kira, at her first Stewfest. And then when we're way out in the field, my mom recites James Whitcomb Riley's "The Gobble-uns'll getcha ef ya don't watch out" as we all chime in on that part, we all go "wooo-oooo" with the wind, and "have the mostest fun." After that, my brother Nicholas takes after my uncle Isaac and cousins Joey and Kevin, and climbs silently out of the wagon and scares my cousin Jameson half to death. The trees finally clear enough for us to see the whole Big Dipper and I point it out to my daughter Ellie. The tractor rumbles on and we joke and laugh and then we're back and it's time to get out and trudge back up the hill to the barn. We roast some marshmallows, catch up around the fire, and then I hate it but it's time to go. We have a long drive home and it's late. The night was so perfect it could definitely go down in the books as the Stewfest to beat.

I don't know October without it, and I'm already looking forward to next year.

"and the gobble-uns'll getcha ef ya don't watch out!"
What fall traditions does your family celebrate?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sentimental Sunday: A Collection of Foxes

Yesterday I woke up to a phone call from my aunt Sherrie, and my kids and I ended up spending the morning with her. We went out to breakfast, and then we did something that was really hard for me. We went over to my great-great aunt's apartment and went through her things, and I got to choose which things of hers that I wanted to take home. In her credenza, a big note was taped over a collection of old photo albums and memorabilia that read: Katie's Korner. All of that was mine for the taking. She wanted me to have all of it. It was exciting for the genealogist in me: my great-great grandparents' marriage certificate, her high school diploma, an old Bible, old photos, but it was all very difficult at the same time, because of what dividing up all of these things meant. It was hard walking through her apartment without her there, even though she is still living, and deciding to divide up her things. One thing I knew I wanted: a fox. Her name is Betts Fox, and over the years she has collected foxes. Other relatives had already come and taken most of the foxes, but I found a painting of a fox by a local artist in a corner, so I took that, and will hang it in my office. So then we took all of the historical items, paintings, and other odds and ends and loaded up my aunt's car, and then we went over to visit Betts at the nursing home. 

Katie Andrews Potter's photo.
Ellie & Micah with their Great-great-great aunt Betts

We surprised her with our visit, and she was excited to see us. She is 94 years old, and even though she may be in her last months, is still as vibrant as ever. She has always been full of life. She is a Euchre queen, has always kept up with her family and old friends, loves sports and her "soaps".

Betts with her nephew, Jim Mulry, playing Euchre at her birthday party

Happy birthday!

Some day I will write out her life story on my blog, but for now, I just wanted to write out about what was going through my mind as we were going through her things yesterday. This coming week I will be seeing her again, and this time, I'm going to record an interview with her about her life story, memories, and the changes she's seen in her life time living in Indianapolis. I'm so grateful to have gotten to know her. And to my family - take the time to go visit her while you still can. She would love the visit. More to come.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wishful Wednesday: An Enigma

                           "My brother and your father - a good man - an enigma"

These are the words of my great-great uncle, Ralph Holsclaw, written in a letter to my grandmother, Mary Holsclaw Andrews. Her father, Hubert Holsclaw, or "Herb", had just died, and he was writing to her about his death. But neither one of them had known him at the time of his death. Neither one of them had seen him for years before his death.

Hubert Holsclaw had walked out on my grandma and her mother, Helen, when my grandma was only seven years old. She was an only child. My grandma and her mother lived with Helen's parents from that time on, and her grandparents, Elmer and Lottie Oder, became very close to her. But to my knowledge, from the age of seven, my grandma never again saw her father, and I don't believe she ever spoke to him again either.

So in 1973, Ralph wrote a letter on a typewriter to my grandma Mary in response to one she had written to him, telling him there were many things she wished to know. We had never heard about this letter, and only discovered it in her house after she had died. Ralph begins the letter by harkening back to 1927, the year Hubert walked out. He left, relocated to Boston, remarried, and later moved to Miami, where years later, he divorced again. But he was a hard worker, and did, it seems, keep a few close friends, but it seems he had trouble with relationships, and as Ralph later notes, he had a pattern of rejecting the people who loved him. He never did mention a daughter to anyone he came in contact with. He died suddenly, without any warning, at the age of 75.

Ralph writes, "Seventeen elderly persons attended his funeral and signed the register. I met them all as they came in and asked if they had the time to wait after the service so that I could talk with them. We all met in the back of the chapel and each and every one of them expressed to me that they had never known a finer and gentler man. None had laid eyes upon him since he bowed out upon them without a goodbye. An elderly couple who, because of their infirmities, could not attend the service, had a friend drive them to the door of the chapel and asked that I come out and talk to them, which I did. All of their questioning eyes formed the one word - WHY. They and you and I will never know the answer. None of these friends had ever heard of the existence of a brother or a daughter except Mrs. Gasche and she had not heard about you. My brother and your father - a good man - an enigma. I am sure you have detected a pattern in your father's life, as I have - a rejection of the people who loved him....."

These are the times in genealogy when you wish you could have been a fly on the wall. When you wish you could have known Mrs. Gasche, or Ralph, or Ralph's daughter that he mentions, who apparently Hubert favored. But at the same time it gives me insight to my grandmother's childhood, and what pain this man must have caused her. But having only known him to the age of seven, she couldn't really tell me much about him when I asked, or...she didn't really want to. I couldn't tell. An enigma indeed. All of genealogy really is, isn't it?